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In War, There Are No Winners

Vayishlach (Genesis 32:4-36:43 )

by Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis

Parashat Vayishlach describes Yaakov's feelings just before his fateful encounter with his twin brother Eisav - Vayirah Yaakov meod vayeizer lo, Yaakov was afraid and he was distressed.

Why is it necessary for both descriptions? Surely, if he was afraid he was distressed and if he was distressed then he was afraid?

The Netziv explains as follows: Yaakov was afraid lest he be killed and he was distressed because he was afraid. He knew that God had instructed him to make his way to the Holy Land. He knew that God would protect him, and yet, he still was nervous, he was full of fear and that distressed him because he felt that he should have conducted himself in a better way and he was letting himself down.

Rashi, as always, gives a masterful explanation. He explains, Yaakov was afraid lest he be killed and he was distressed lest he be forced to kill. It was Yaakov who realized that in war, there are no winners. Either your life is taken or for the rest of your life you have blood on your hands.

And so it is in every form of conflict, including domestic and communal conflict. Even when one is fighting lesheim shamayim, for the sake of heaven, there will always be pieces to pick up. There will be matters that one will regret.

Let us recall how even when facing a war which was inevitable and which he had to engage in, Yaakov was ever conscious of the destructive nature of conflict. Let us always strive to love peace and to pursue it.

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